It’s human nature to try to ease discomfort as quickly as possible. As Freud famously described, we have the instinctual need to seek pleasure and avoid pain. But leaning into the discomfort of uncomfortableness is where we stretch ourselves, grow as people, and achieve greatness.
My greatest moment of discomfort was just over 9 years ago while living in Austin, TX. Early one (really hot and muggy) morning, I finally admitted to myself that I wasn’t going to be the person I was capable of becoming while living the fast-paced, uber-materialist, unexamined life I was leading. It was incredibly painful to acknowledge that I was failing at life. But that realization…that burst of utter honesty with myself…was the most defining moment of my life. And it really sucked. I was almost paralyzed with discomfort about what the future would hold.
That day, I made the decision to come clean with my mother and closest friends. I concluded that Durango, where my mother lived, was where I needed to be. A week later, I gave my boss a month’s notice that I was leaving. A month later, I traded in my sports car for a (very unsexy) Honda CRV and packed what belongings would fit into it, put the rest in storage, and drove the 1000 miles from Austin to Durango. And I cried most of the way. What in the hell was I doing?
It was the best decision of my life.
I could have pushed aside the discomfort. I could have ignored it and talked myself into staying in Austin. I could have easily stayed stuck.
Instead, I set my life on a radically different course.
Being pushed outside of your comfort zone means that you are being given a golden opportunity to grow as a person. Rather than run away from it, dig your heels in and resist it, deny it, or blame someone for making you uncomfortable, I encourage you to take it head-on. Breathe deeply and say to yourself, “I am going to learn something really great throughout this process. I may not know what it is yet but I trust that it is going to help me be a better parent/spouse/employee/coach/fill in the blank.”
Here are some things I do when I feel uncomfortable (which happens quite often, truth be told):
- I take a deep breath and feel my body. Breathing deeply and slowly calms me down and helps me clear my head. Thinking clearly is important in tough situations.
- I make a list (can you tell that I’m a list person?) of what I want the outcomes to be. Sure, something may “happening” to me, but that doesn’t certainly doesn’t mean that I can’t affect the outcome. Being clear about what I want helps me take appropriate action so that I can create a growth opportunity out of the uncomfortableness.
- I make a plan so I can achieve my outcome. It could be a big plan (like move to Durango) or a small plan (like scheduling a meeting to apologize for hurting someone’s feelings). Having a plan helps me keep my mind from spinning on the issue at hand. Once I know what I am going to do, I have an easier time letting it go.
- I think about the obstacles I might hit along the way of executing my plan and come up with a few solutions in advance. What will I do if I can’t find a job in Durango? What will I do if I say the wrong thing and make the situation worse? What will I do if I get emotional? Thinking through obstacles helps me prepare for them if they do pop up and try to trip me.
- I take action, even if it’s one small step. The answer to fear is to move. Taking the first step is always the hardest. Once I’ve taken that first step, I usually realize that it really wasn’t that hard and it makes the next step easier. First…as always…I breathe deeply. Second, I set my intention to achieve a positive outcome (it’s important to have a positive mindset, not one that is going to be defensive or excuse-making). Then I take the first step. Pick up the phone and make the call. Go ask one person for feedback or advice. Make a list of questions to ask your boss so have clarity about the change that is happening. It doesn’t matter what the situation is, just take one small step.
- I go do something that I love. For me, exercise is a surefire way to make me feel better about anything. If I am feeling stressed and uncomfortable, a long trail run or a mountain bike ride is just what I need. Doing something I love helps remind me that I have a lot to be grateful for and puts the situation into perspective. Sure, what I am dealing with might be hard but no matter what happens, I am going to be okay. A good run reminds that that being uncomfortable isn’t going to kill me.
There is no doubt that it can be insanely scary to take risks, try something new, or make major changes in your life. You might fail, look stupid, get lost, or lose money. Or you might not. You can try to fool yourself into thinking that playing it safe will ease the discomfort. But I can tell you this, playing it safe isn’t safe. In fact, it’s the biggest risk you can take in your life. Settling for mediocracy in this one life you have to live is a major gamble.
Don’t let your fear and dislike of being uncomfortable hold you back. Acknowledge it, cuddle up with it, take one small step, and observe the powerful sense of achievement you will feel.
Thanks for reading as always, please comment or share if you feel inspired to.
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